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Environmental Factor

September 2011

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Olden leads school to accreditation

By Eddy Ball
September 2011

Logo for 'Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)'
Kenneth Olden, Ph.D.

Olden, above, has commuted to New York from his home in North Carolina since the fall of 2008. When he accepted the position, Olden called it “one opportunity I thought I couldn't pass up.” He explained that he hopes the school will emerge as “the Mecca, the epicenter for modern public health.” (Photo courtesy of CUNY Media Relations)

Thanks in great part to the leadership of NIEHS Director Emeritus Ken Olden, Ph.D., the new urban public health initiative at the City University of New York (CUNY) will welcome its first class to a fully accredited school. In a press release issued July 25, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)( Exit NIEHS announced its accreditation of the CUNY School of Public Health (SPH)( Exit NIEHS for a five-year term extending to July 1, 2016. The SPH is a collaboration of Hunter, Brooklyn, and Lehman Colleges, and the CUNY Graduate School.

Olden joined CUNY in 2008 as founding dean of the CUNY School of Public Health and for the past 2 1/2 years has overseen the development of the curriculum and recruitment of 26 tenure-track faculty members. Earlier this year, Olden moved with the school from its temporary home to a new eight-story, 147,000-square-foot green building in East Harlem - a community with one of the highest rates of poverty, and preventable morbidity and mortality in the U.S.

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Addressing a new paradigm in public health

“The goal of CUNY's School of Public Health,” Olden said, when he began as dean, “is to train interdisciplinary urban public health researchers and practitioners capable of working across all levels of analysis, disciplines, and social sectors - such as health, education, the environment and criminal justice - to address complex urban public health problems.”

According to Olden, to meet the challenges of public health in the 21st century, the discipline needs to think beyond the previous century's focus on infectious diseases and mainstream medicine's preoccupation with drugs and high-tech procedures to treat individuals with disease, to embrace prevention as the most effective strategy for reducing morbidity and mortality and for promoting healthy aging. Olden has explained that the urban setting is where the majority of people in the U.S. and worldwide are encountering the conditions that lead to chronic diseases, such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), so it's natural that cities will be the best place to test new strategies for prevention.

As Olden said in a talk earlier this year, “New York is a microcosm of the world,” a fertile laboratory for studying the environmental factors that impact health globally and for field-testing ways to eliminate health disparities.

Looking forward

“Once the transition to our new location is complete, my task [here in New York] will be over,” Olden said of his work at CUNY. “So, I am looking forward to coming back to North Carolina within the next ten to twelve months.”

This will mark Olden's second retirement, first from NIEHS and then from CUNY, but few who know him really think he'll retire in the conventional sense of the word and won't be too surprised if he takes on new challenges after he returns home. Olden travels to Iowa City this month to receive an award for his long-time championship of community participation in the full spectrum of environmental health research. And it's very likely that he'll continue to pursue his passion for advancing public health, health parity, and environmental justice in the years to come.

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